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Open Letter to Ebay Regarding Autographs and Historical Documents

impius1impius1 Posts: 1
edited October 12, 2021 11:43AM in Autographs Forum

This is being posted as an open letter but has been sent to the recipients listed below.

Dear Mr. Iannone et al,

I am writing to you to highlight and discuss a disturbing trend I am seeing of late on Ebay. That trend is the increasing prevalence of auctions of cut up historical documents, into individual words. I am seeing more and more of this on a daily basis. Typically, the words are cut from documents written by the founding fathers and authenticated by third party authenticators (primarily James Spence Authentication). As of today, I see 25 auctions containing individual words from Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and John Quincy Adams (see a few examples with links below). The majority of these auctions contain letters of authenticity from James Spence Authentication.

I have been collecting presidential autographs for over 20 years and I have a good understand of the incentive that is driving these “cut” words. If, as an example, a John Adams hand written letter with approximately 400 words were to be appraised by me, I would set the value at ~$10,000. If it is cut up into a signature and 400-500 individual words and letters, and then sold separately, it could fetch up to 10x as much (~$100,000). So, you can see the incentive that is being created here, unfortunately, there is incentive being created by Ebay and 3rd party authenticators for people to destroy historical documents.

My ask is that Ebay stop allowing auctions of individual words and letters cut from historical documents. Adding them to the prohibited and restricted items list. I also ask that James Spence Authentication, PSA and Beckett Grading not authenticate individual words and letters cut from historical documents (If they do not currently ban). These measures implemented by the largest signature marketplace in the world and the three largest authenticators, will help to preserve and protect our history.

Thank you,

John Adams word, authenticated by James Spence Authentication: https://www.ebay.com/itm/333846007788?hash=item4dbac5cfec:g:oRsAAOSwq7Rf8idz
George Washington, Ben Franklin, John Adams, no authentication: https://www.ebay.com/itm/164574997194?hash=item26516f2aca:g:gLcAAOSwiLVf1BrQ
Thomas Jefferson word, authenticated by James Spence Authentication: https://www.ebay.com/itm/174973025505?hash=item28bd347ce1:g:KQcAAOSwmPphY7YE
John Quincy Adams word, authenticated by James Spence Authentication: https://www.ebay.com/itm/255090324341?hash=item3b64917375:g:eEkAAOSwQU1hFeIj

Recipients (Some sent document under separate cover):
Jamie Iannone: CEO, Ebay
Jordan Sweetnam: SVP & General Manager, Ebay
Michael Peterson: VP Global Experience and Operations, Ebay
Julie Loeger: SVP, Chief Growth Officer, Ebay
Paul S. Pressler: Chairman of the Board, Ebay
David S. Ferriero: National Archives, Archivist of the United States
Debra Steidel Wall: National Archives, Deputy Archivist of the United States
James Spence Jr. : Owner, James Spence Authentication
Steve Sloan: President, PSA Authentication and Grading Service
Nat Turner: CEO, Collectors Universe
Jeromy Murray: President, Beckett Collectibles

This letter will also be published as an open letter to ensure I am able to reach all recipients.



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    KeshequaKeshequa Posts: 108 ✭✭✭

    Excellent point.

    Buying and Selling coins for 54 years, 700+ shows in last 20 years, and boy am I tired.
    Purchased and Trademarked the Mohawk Valley Hoard
    Originated the Rochester (NY) Area Coin Expo

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    JBKJBK Posts: 14,898 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Might be more appropriate on the Autographs Forum.

    In any case, I understand and generally agree with your concerns.


    Many of these are undoubtedly from documents that were alreadt damaged or were unsigned.

    How do feel about signatures being cut from items and included on limited edition trading cards? (I hate the practice, but cut signatures have been around for many mant decades).

    I am not sure I want people telling me what I can collect. I do not like these one or two word collectables, and I don't know how they can be independently authenticated, but there is unfortunately a market for them.

    Anyway, hopefully you can get some conversation going in the hobby/business. While you are at it, let's also raise the issue if those authenticator's stickers appearing in very obvious places on the items.

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    One constructive criticism of your position as alluded to already by JBK, you'd need to document a circumstance where a historically invaluable document was purchased with public record (e.g. online auction with photos) and subsequent massive parting as you suggest that is being resold. The fault with your logic is if someone were to flood the market with 500 words from a single author that there'd be enough demand to justify the price despite the saturation. I'm not convinced that would be the case. Otherwise, if someone has inconsequential pieces, or pieces that are otherwise damaged, and parts them out... such is the way of the world. Same as when these grand folios with 100 works from the 17th century get cut up, framed, and sold individually. There's often more appeal and thus more value to numerous presentable works of art rather than a stack where only one piece can be observed at a time and by one owner...

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    ifthevamzarockinifthevamzarockin Posts: 8,498 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Welcome to the forum! :)

    Your efforts and concerns are admirable. :)

    Sorry to say but ebay will take no action in this matter.
    Even if the autographs were not authentic ebay would do very little.

    Ebay does very little to stop or prevent counterfeit coin sales and they are also collecting sales tax on coins in states that don't charge sale tax on coins & paper money. This is illegal and they do nothing to correct it. Your issue is not illegal so the chance of them doing anything is lower than the chance of them preventing counterfeit coin sales.

    Ebay is a poorly run dishonest company. :/

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    PerryHallPerryHall Posts: 45,554 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Is this really that different from taking gold bars recovered from a famous shipwreck, slicing off the face plates, and then melting the gold bars to make thousands of replica coins to sell to collectors?

    Worry is the interest you pay on a debt you may not owe.

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    burghmanburghman Posts: 831 ✭✭✭✭

    I’m not sure that I understand the market for these items. The LOA is for the full item, is watermarked or otherwise reproducible, and therefore can’t be given to the buyer of each word. Doesn’t that mean in it’s no longer officially authentic once it’s purchased (or even once cut from the original)? I get that some people out there just want to own something from these historical figures, but provable authenticity would seem to me to be part of the package. Sure, you have a copy of the LOA but the LOA itself says that it’s not legit if not on watermarked paper… I don’t get it. Not to mention you know have up to dozens of individual items tracing back to a single Cert number. Seems to be numerous problems that could result.

    The John Adams “Kennedy” listing is just plain dishonest… “ A fascinating historical connection between the 2nd President and 35th President, John F. Kennedy.” Please! This single word is as much a “historical connection” to JFK as it is a historical connection to Lincoln or Cortez Kennedy.


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    JBKJBK Posts: 14,898 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Presumably the seller of the fragment also includes their own COA, essentially attest to the fact that it came from the larger document. But, in most cases the fragment is not authenticatable on it's own, so it's a bit of a collectable gimmick.

    I did not see the listing but any attempt to link a single word to JFK is borderline fraudulent.

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